Traveling the Rift Valley south I was reminded of a phrase my niece said during our first visit to Israel: Just add water. Without water the land is rocky, arid, dry. Just add water and … voila! lush, green valleys and hillsides of banana, plum, peach cherry, apple, orange, lime and lemon, grapefruit, and pomegranate trees. And the grapevines and fields of every kind of vegetable. It is simply amazing. What you don’t see, aside from birds and lizardy kind of crawling things … ok, and cats … there is very little wildlife. I expected seeing an ibex or fox. Nothing. Our guide thought it might be because during the Ottoman invasion all the trees were cut down, all the forests wiped out so, the animals fled for new homes elsewhere. Could be. Or maybe all those invading armies killed all the animals for food. Regardless, just add water still applies.
After a couple other stops we finished our day at Qumran, the site of a 2nd Century BCE community of the Essenes. They considered the religious leaders of Jerusalem corrupt and so gathered in this place, set apart from all other Jewish sects. It took three years for a convert to be received into this community. Ritual cleansing morning and evening, reading and study of the Scriptures, prayer, and common work for the good of the community (farming, cooking, etc.) all characterized a their daily life. It is thought that John the Baptist participated in an Essenes community a few years before he began preaching a message of repentance.
One of the greatest gifts this particular community left us were scrolls describing their rule of life, passages of Scripture, hymns and prayers, and commentaries. These scrolls were accidentally found in 1947 by a bedouin, who had been tossing rocks into a cave when he heard an uncharacteristic smashing sound. (The cave is in the photo. Don’t you wonder what he was doing up there on that hill throwing rocks?) Upon further investigation he found scrolls wrapped in dry brittle leather stored in a number of large clay jars. He took the scrolls to a shoemaker thinking the leather may be worth something. The shoemaker also happened to be an antiquities dealer and recognized the value of the scrolls. It took years to acquire all the scrolls and get them to curators to preserve them for our benefit. You can learn more about them with an online search.
We ended our day at the King David Hotel. This is my roommate looking over our 17th floor balcony! The Dead Sea is in the background. Wow.